PSAM caught up with Terry Smith, MD of Arena Group Seating, to find out about his background and the projects the company is currently working on.

Can you tell us a bit about your history with Arena Group?

Yes, certainly, I took over as MD in December 2018. It was my father that started the original Arena Seating. We were known as Arena Promotional Facilities (APF). It’s our fiftieth birthday next year, so that was in 1971/72 when the official limited company started. So I was really born into this industry. 

It was a family business until the mid-90s when we were bought out and then we became part of the Arena Group, which took the Arena name. 

It was an amalgamation of various other companies from the temporary structures and furniture side.  But Arena Seating has always maintained its own identity. 

Although we’re no longer a family company, we’ve still got various other family members with us. Two of our staff have just celebrated their 40th years’ service, so we’ve got a lot of longevity.

From a personal point of view, I worked on site for many years, moved up to site manager, then ops manager. I was Operations Director for 20 odd years and then got promoted to the managing director position. 

So, my background is very much operational, although I have significant experience in project management as well. I guess the advantage I have is that there isn't much about temporary seating that I don't know and I've not been involved with. I’ve been active in the sales, project management, technical, and the operational side as well, which I feel stands me in good stead to have a helicopter view over the company.

What are the recent changes at Arena Group?

Up until the summer of last year, Arena Group was effectively split into three regions - the US, the UK/Europe, and Middle East/Asia. We were three separate regions with three separate chief execs, very much working together, but separate.

The Covid situation then fast-tracked changes we would have made anyway. We decided to merge the UK/Europe and Middle East/Asia division, so we’re now Arena EMEA, with the US still as a separate region.

The chief exec of Middle East and Asia, Paul Berger, is now chief executive of EMEA and we have a COO, Tom Evans. We have divisional MDs and I’m the MD of Seating.

Essentially, we’re split into three areas – seating, structures, furniture and managed ice which is under the banner of events and event hire, which sweeps up the diverse parts of Arena, including mass participation, cold rooms, crockery & cutlery, and the catering side of things.

What was the rationale behind these changes?

It was to rationalise the senior team and to restructure, so that we could be more efficient in offering turnkey event services to all of our clients. But also, we'd been working closely with the Middle East office on a number of projects - particularly in seating. Arena’s expertise for demountable seating and stadium installations sits with us here in the UK, but is a global offering. We have delivered the major sporting event in Japan this year and project managed the temporary stadium design and build for the Diryah Joshua fight event in Saudi, which made us all appreciate that actually the Middle East is a relatively short flight away. So, I think it was a combination of things with Covid having an impact.

We saw a situation where we would work even closer with the Middle East team, so it seemed to be the natural progression to combine it.

That’s borne fruit already because we've been successful with the motorsport later this year. We’ve won the contract for the temporary seating and also the hospitality structures as well. And that's very much a UK/Saudi/Middle East operation because we’ve now got a Saudi entity as well, so we've got offices in Saudi, we’ve got a general manager there and we’re employing Saudi nationals. We have a lot of seating and equipment going on to be based there, following use on the event in Japan this summer.

We signed a contract to supply seating and infrastructure for Saudi motorsport, so we’re establishing ourselves there and that opens the door for other work in the region. That gives us a great platform to build on.

The whole world is looking closely at Saudi and since the Joshua/Ruiz fight, there's no question they are looking to get all of the blue ribband events. It's all part of their 2030 vision.

And what about projects closer to home in the UK?

Obviously Covid was a major issue for us all. But last year we were able to do a lot of work for the NHS, whether that was testing centres or temporary hospitals, and sadly morgues and other facilities.

We also had two major permanent or semi-permanent installs which was the London Stadium project and the Edinburgh Rugby Stadium, which is a permanent stadium built in the same timeframe as a temporary stadium and at a fraction of the cost of bricks and mortar. So those two projects as well as events in Saudi Arabia and Japan kept us busy throughout the year. 

We were able to deliver both stadium projects successfully, even with all of the covid restrictions, which was a challenge. 

The London Stadium concept obviously is an area which we definitely feel is a great case study to roll out to the rest of the world, where you have a lot of older stadiums that have got athletics tracks around them, or just outdated grandstands that need upgrading. 

Rather than knock it down and start again, we can actually come in and work with the venue to upgrade facilities and improve the audience (and player) experience. We’ve got our own in-house CAD guys, our in-house structural engineers, so from a technical perspective, we’re promoting the phrase “seating architects.”

What Covid has done for us is that it has enabled us to move from being seen purely as a temporary structure supplier to a much wider offering which is permanent/semi-permanent modular structures. 

Edinburgh is one example of that, where again, for a fraction of the budget of a bricks and mortar stadium we were able to deliver an 8,000 capacity covered stadium.

We’re also supporting Matchroom boxing with a turnkey service and products to transform Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium from a football stadium to host the Anthony Joshua fight. 

Can you tell us more about the London Stadium project?

At London Stadium, our flexibility allowed the stadium to bring the seats closer to the pitch, because that was something that obviously West Ham United had a major issue with, which we have achieved with ourclearview™ grandstand system.

It also saves their operating costs quite substantially during the summer months when they change to the different events such as concerts, athletics or the MLB game. 

We've got a long-term contract with them now to operate the North and South stands.  

The previous system they had took a month to remove and was very expensive, which we’ve reduced to 14 days, which will reduce further to 7-10 days in the coming years. 

We’ve come in with a semi-permanent set up. It is based on a bespoke scaffold substructure but with the look of a permanent seating structure. A lot of the people that go to London Stadium now wouldn’t know that that those two end stands are effectively demountable.

Whenever they have events next summer, we will come in and reconfigure the seating.

With London Stadium and other venues, there is the opportunity to completely reconfigure those temporary elements, and also give them hospitality areas to use.

They’ve got these nice new function areas which we provided from our Arena Super Deck structure. It gives them ultimate flexibility, so that's something that we’re certainly pushing into other areas. 

We've already got quite a few opportunities for a version of the London Stadium project around the world in areas like the Middle East, Asia and the US.

From a seating point of view, this venue conversion, semi-permanent modular/permanent arrangement is very much UK expertise. The hub for seating expertise is very much in the UK and we're working out of the UK into various other parts of the region and the world.

We’re servicing enquiries from a number of different countries who have become aware of what they might be able to do for a fraction of the cost of a more permanent set-up.

London stadium typifies what we can do, because it brings the semi-permanent/permanent feel to the project but equally for the transition every summer, we’re going to have to turn that round in the space 7 to 10 days, when they bring in other events such as athletics or concerts. 

Our UK seating operation comes into play there where we’ve got our own full-time site riggers and full-time project management teams and design teams.

What about other markets in the UK?

We’re also in the traditional UK market, where this year for instance we’ve seen some events coming back, whether that's Wimbledon or the Queen’s Club tennis projects. These are very important ‘core’ clients for us. Goodwood Festival of Speed is another one. We’ve got a contract for that, the Revival and the members meetings - three major events at Goodwood over the course of a year.

It’s good to see the UK events industry is gradually coming back, not entirely and this year was always going to be a bit of a transition, but looking ahead to next year things are going to be moving on, with a lot of events in the planning pipeline.

We also do quite a lot of work with cricket stadiums, where we increase the capacity for places like the Ageas Bowl and Edgbaston for international fixtures.

Outdoor music events were the last to come back from lockdown, unfortunately, because obviously they relied on the full capacity. There are lot of stadium shows planned for 2022, so we’ll be putting our flat system for pitch seating. 

Looking ahead to next year with the Commonwealth Games in in Birmingham, I think it's going to be a monumental year in many ways because obviously lots of events didn’t go ahead this year.

At the Commonwealth Games we’ve been successful with an overlay contract for a number of the venues.

We also work with the Jockey Club to provide structures and seating for the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National at Aintree.

Similarly, The Open and BMW Championship are prestigious events we’re proud to support within the wider golfing calendar we supply. These kind of events draw on many of the divisional products and expertise such a furniture, cold stores, fencing etc.

There really aren’t many sporting events we havn’t worked with, from international Women’s Hockey World Cup to America’s Cup Sailing.

We’ve worked with Eddie Hearn for many years, first when he was promoting snooker exhibition matches and championship matches before progressing on to darts. We’ve worked on a number of fights with them, including the Joshua/Ruiz bout in Saudi. 

This year they promoted Fight Camp in their back garden and we have worked on it again this year. We effectively provided a turnkey overlay service, from delivering event toilets to trackway to give them a complete sporting venue, with all broadcast facilities. 

On a personal level it has been nice to go and see some of these events and remind ourselves what this business is all about, which is the people. 

From our crews being back doing what they love and do best, to the promoters, venue managers and creative designers, I’ve sensed a genuine excitement and enthusiasm to be back at work. I know I am . . .  because it’s pretty cool really and a great family to be a part of.